How agroecology is gaining momentum

By

Laura Angelstorf, Online editor

Too complex, too time consuming, not implementable on a large scale – these are common prejudices against agroecology. Nevertheless, research results are increasingly showing that agroecology provides a convincing path to a sustainable food system. But one crux is how to fund it. How Biovision is now getting things moving.

Already in 2019, the “Money Flows” report co-published by Biovision (see box) revealed that only a fraction of research funds flow into agroecological research and that conventional practices in agriculture continue to be the norm. Funders argue that an important condition for supporting a project is that it delivers results and turns profit quickly – both insufficient criteria that favor conventional agriculture. However, scientific evidence is revealing many long-term environmental and social benefits of agroecology and that it can indeed be profitable.

The "Money Flows" report

The 2019 “Money Flows” report, conducted by Biovision in collaboration with the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems  (IPES-Food) and the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), examined the financial flows that support agricultural research for development. It came to three conclusions:

  • Most research funds still flow into conventional, environmentally damaging agriculture. 
  • Where agroecological practices are promoted, their focus is on cultivation methods and production, thus considering only one aspect of agroecology. Social, societal, political and economic aspects, such as those addressed by circular or solidarity-based farming or questions of who owns the land on which crops are grown, do not receive sufficient attention, even though these would be crucial in designing a sustainable food system.
  • Most of the funds earmarked for the development on the African continent do not flow to Africa but instead support projects led by research institutes in the global North. Moreover, research has shown that African research programmes are more agroecologically oriented and thus include the food system in a more holistic way.
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Practical examples will convince donors

The theory behind agroecology confirms that it is profitable and offers many other benefits: for example, it promotes the circular economy, solidarity and fair land management. “Agroecology is knowledge intensive. What you save in inputs for cultivation, for example by not having to purchase fertilizer or seeds, is needed elsewhere in the form of knowledge. Sharpening farmers’ and entrepreneurs’ understanding of agroecology therefore requires investment. If young entrepreneurs can prove that they work profitably, this also attracts investors. This is how we will ultimately free agroecology from being confined to a niche field”, says Stefanie Pondini, Programme Manager Policy Dialogue and Advocacy at Biovision.

There are only a few showcase projects, such as COMACO or Sylvas Food Solution from Zambia, that have been able to go beyond smallholder structures and convince investors of the economic viability of agroecology. But the first agroecologically structured enterprises are emerging. The Biovision partner organization Sustainable Agriculture Tanzania (SAT) has already taken a big step in this direction by founding SAT Holistic Group Limited.

Learn more about SAT’s agroecological approach in this video.

Biovision knows that there are other excellent agroecological actors and small enterprises that, with the necessary initial support, will be able to function economically and independently.

Securing success with knowledge

To ensure that more is invested in such agroecological projects and enterprises in the long term, it is not only necessary to have informed and convinced donors but also more agroecological and entrepreneurial knowledge among farmers.

Initial clarifications by Biovision with experts from Uganda and Kenya have revealed that it would be worthwhile to create a knowledge and networking hub for sharing background information on business processes, where entrepreneurs could be trained to develop agroecological business models. There is currently no place where networking and cooperation (for example, matching entrepreneurs with donors) can take place.

 “Biovision sees this as a great opportunity to get involved so that more philanthropic and private-sector investors may soon participate and actively contribute their investments to shaping a sustainable food system”, says Fabio Leippert, Program Manager Policy Dialogue and Advocacy at Biovision.

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